Stigma against people who use drugs results in discrimination, impacts health, and contributes to overdoses. Sharing stories of people who use drugs can reduce stigma.
Northern Health’s Stop Stigma. Save Lives. project shares the words of 12 people with firsthand or family experiences of drug use. Through these stories, we hope to build compassion, encourage empathy, and contribute to a community that treats all people with dignity and respect. We thank all of the participants for their courage and willingness to share their stories.
We all have a role to play to challenge stigma. We encourage you to learn from and share these stories. Make a pledge to stop stigma.
Stories were recorded in July 2016.
I was born in Dawson Creek. I grew up there and stayed until I was 18. I had kids at 13. I got kicked out of school when they found out I was pregnant at 13. They kicked me out because they thought I was going to bring it on the other girls. So I didn’t get a chance to go to school. I came to Prince George when I was 18 and I’ve been here ever since. I’m 38 now.
I’ve been an addict that long and I’ve been on the streets that long. I worked the streets. I’m a working girl, which is really hard because I get a lot of stigma around that. People label me as soon as they look at me. I get a lot of stigma around being a working girl and an addict at the same time.
As a result of my addiction, I got HIV. I got HIV by getting raped by a guy. A working girl gave it to him, so he took it out on seven of us working girls and gave us the HIV virus. So, the impact of addiction? It took my life away. It ruined my life. Because of trying to support my addiction, I practically gave myself a death sentence of having HIV. It’s hard.
When people judge me for being a working girl, it hurts. They don’t know me. They just take one look at me and I know. The reaction I get on their faces like: “oh gross” or “ew, look at her, she’s an addict, she sells her body.” It hurts a lot. I’m a good person. If they really got to know me, they would really like me. It’s hard.
I feel judged going into businesses or stores. Because I’m native, they will follow me in the store. They think I’m going to steal because of my colour or my race. Because of the track marks on my arms, they know I’m an addict so they think that I’m in there to steal to support my habit. I get that quite a lot wherever I go. It hurts. It hurts a lot.
I feel judged at the hospital, too. I wouldn’t go to the hospital even if I was on my deathbed. The way I get treated at the hospital is that I’m just going there to look for a quick fix, or I’m just drug-seeking. They just kick me out. “Oh, you’re okay,” they say, and they tell me to leave. They don’t check me over. I had one time they didn’t want me to be with the other patients. They did their check out on me in the waiting room. When I left, they wiped the seat down like I was infectious. It was a horrible feeling the way they made me feel. They made me feel like I was a germ. I will never go back there again. It was a horrible feeling the way they treated me that day. I don’t feel like I belong there at all, and it’s a hospital. I am supposed to go there to feel safe and I don’t feel safe at all. It’s pretty bad that I wouldn’t go there on my deathbed because of the stigma I get.
The way I’d like to be treated is with respect and dignity and like a human being – the way everybody else gets to be treated. Welcome me and ask me if there is anything you can help me with. Ask me how my day is going, instead of just trying to rush me out or just trying to get me out of the store or the business or wherever I am. Instead of just looking at me and judging me for my addiction and my appearance and for being native.
I would feel more belonging in the community if there was less judgement, less stigma – if people weren’t so quick to judge a person by their appearance.
When people are released from jail, they don’t realize that their tolerances are zero. If they are an addict, someone should give them a pamphlet or let them know their tolerance isn’t the same. And if they are going to go out there and use again, they need to be very careful. Do a tester first. A lot of people start off where they finished off and that’s why there are so many overdoses – because people think their tolerance is the same and they don’t know any different. They automatically do the same amount that they did before and that’s why they overdose.
A safe injection site would be awesome, too. Because people go and hide. They feel their addiction is not supposed to be in the open so they go and hide in the back alley. Because they are alone, they overdose. There is nobody there, so a safe injection site would be the best thing, I think.
What would you like people to know about you?
I’m a good person. I like to talk to people. I like to talk to kids, making people laugh. I give back to people and it makes my day. I’d rather give than receive any day.
I’ve never been anywhere but the north. I’ve just been here. I’m here with my honey and my cat. I actually like it, it’s a beautiful country.
I have a lot of talent: I like beading and singing; I like to paint. I do nice native art. I got into beading when I was in jail and I found I had a good talent. I’ve been artistic for almost 18 years now.
My spouse, Trevor, and my cat make me happy. My cat makes me the happiest – he is so smart! The elders say he’s an old spirit because he’s so smart. In fact, if it wasn’t for him, my honey and I wouldn’t be alive right now. Once, there was a fire and our cat ran and jumped on my chest. He roared and wouldn’t stop until I woke up and realized there was a fire. So I yelled and woke Trevor up. The fire was on the coffee table. He picked it up and went outside. For the cat to know that was dangerous and to wake us up, he was very smart. I owe that cat my life!